Rice au gratin, an old family recipe that children love

   It was wonderful to spend some time with my Swedish friend Katarina and her beautiful family last week-end. We arranged to meet for going to the food store together and choose some ingredient for preparing an old recipe my grandmother used to make at Christmastime, when the whole family was finally together at home.

   Children agreed with us for the choice, indeed they welcomed the idea of rice au gratin with a cheerful ‘wow!’ and, on the other hand, they had the task to prepare a special dessert for all of us.

   At home, Katarina and I started to peel carrots, chopping them with celery, onion and garlic and, once everything was done, all ingredients went in a big sauce pan, on a stove. We poured some extra-virgin olive oil and the vegetables started frying lightly. Then, it was the turn for the veal minced meat and a sprinkle of thyme and, after the lumps of meat were all melt with a wooden spoon, we added the tomato sauce, some salt and kept on steering, being careful the sauce did not stick on the surface of the sauce pan. Besides, some water was added in order the sauce be not too much thick.

   In the meanwhile, the rice was prepared in an other big pan (boiling salt water) and when it was done and the rice was strained, few roses of butter and grated parmigiano reggiano were added for ‘mantecare’ it. Then, off from the stove, the tomato sauce was poured in the pan, where the rice was, and Katarina kept on working on it with great energy until it was all homogeneous.

   At last, we made layers of  rice in a casserole (greased with few drops of extra virgin olive oil), alternating them with layers of mozzarella and placed it in the oven at a temperature between 200° – 250° C for about 20 minutes in order to have a golden surface on the rice. In this case, we didn’t add breadcrumbs nor eggs, since the rice was well ‘mantecato’, having a similar ‘gratin’ effect as well in the end and, what is more, it is a gluten free recipe.

   All the family liked this delicious and simple dish very much and, in the end, we did enjoyed the presentation of a fantastic dessert our little pâtissiers made with meringues, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate for decorations (worth a couple of spoons  for taste and some more).

   Wishing everybody a good week!

 

 

 

Garlic, a natural healthy ingredient for a very simple and tasty Italian recipe, ‘Spaghetti alla Carrettiera’

   Hello! There is a soft breeze in the air that gently touches flowers, trees, foliage in the garden today and nature is in a mesmerizing dance of light. Small pink flowers of wild garlic (allium), resembling tiny bright cups among lush backgrounds of artichokes plants, softly move and humbly bend on their own thin long stalk in a gracious bow. Inspiration! I just came up with the idea of making an old recipe belonging to Southern Italy culinary tradition: ‘Spaghetti alla Carrettiera’.

   As well as being one of the main and mostly used ingredients in gastronomy, garlic has also been known for centuries for its therapeutic benefits. Indeed, in the past, its intense taste was wonderfully much appreciated both as remedy and in the kitchen. Actually, it seems that in the old Egypt, the slaves, who built the pyramids, used to have garlic in plentiful quantities, in order to feel themselves stronger and healthier. What is more, it was found out that in the tomb of Tutankhamen, bulbs of garlic were there, perhaps in order to keep evil spirits far away.  Even Hippocrates, the father of medicine highly recommended garlic for its medicine benefits. Pliny the Elder in his well known Historia Naturalis made references to the garlic for its therapeutic qualities. In the Middle Age, physicians used masks stuffed with garlic to protect themselves from diseases. During the First World War, the garlic was widely used for disinfecting wounds carefully, when there was lack of conventional antiseptics. In addiction to all this, garlic is an excellent vasodilatator, since it lowers the blood pressure and it helps to prevent heart illnesses.

   If in the Chinese cuisine, garlic and ginger are considered the most important fragrances, both for the Indian and West cuisine, garlic adds taste to all different kinds of meat, fish and vegetables dishes. It is a privileged ingredient for the Mexican and South-American cuisine and also for the French cuisine, where it is possible to enjoy garlic fragranced butter, mayonnaise and soup.

 

spaghetti alla carrettiera

   As for the Italian dish, ‘Spaghetti alla Carrettiera’, the traditional recipe specifically coming from Eastern Sicily and widely spread everywhere in Southern Italy with all its own variations, we can point at it as representative of simplicity, since, it is very easy to make and based on very few ingredients that mostly we have in our kitchens. At this proper, garlic is one of those ingredients that we use quite every day.

  First of all, chop fresh parsley and garlic and fry gently in some extra-virgin olive oil. Add rings of onion, hot pepper and a sprinkle of oregano. In the meanwhile, cook spaghetti in boiling, salted water. Even though it is a very simple recipe, the ingredients have been carefully chosen, for keeping the high quality of the dish. So, here we have artisan ‘spaghetti alla chitarra trafilati al bronzo’, which are excellent for their rough surface that holds all different kinds of condiments and they taste perfect when ‘al dente’. Drain the water (save just a little of it, in case you have to add later on in the cooking process) and pour spaghetti in the pan, where you fried chopped parsley and garlic. If spaghetti look dried, then add little of that water you saved before and keep on cooking shortly on high flame. In the end, after removing from the stove, serve spaghetti very warm with a sprinkle of fried golden breadcrumb and ‘buon appetito’!

 

Cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere, etc… Celebrating last days of Carnevale season with a typical ancient dessert that takes you around Italy

Carnival is at the end of its season and, in Italy, we like to celebrate it by preparing a well known light dessert, which has many different names, according to the region we visit, and perhaps it has its roots in the ancient Roman festivities called “frictilia”. 

The recipe is simple and it doesn’t take too long for preparing this fragrant delicacy at home. Of course, the recipe for making cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere can be slightly different from a place to an other in Italy or even among families. The ingredients that follow belong to the traditional recipe that in my family they have been using for years. It is always a lovely feeling to open that old, turned yellow exercise book, where my aunt Lucia diligently took note of her recipes: some of them were expression of our local culinary tradition, some others were the fruit of her experiences in the kitchen and some more were found on old fashion magazines. 

Ingredients: 

  • 500gr. wheat flour
  • n.2 eggs
  • n.2 spoons of sugar
  • 50 gr. butter
  • a sprinkle of salt
  • a bit of anise
  • a bit of white wine

Mix all together and work the mixture until it is well done, then cover it with a kitchen napkin and leave it to rest for a couple of hours. After this, make a sheet of pastry that should be a couple of millimeters thick (you may use your rolling pin or your Grandma Duck for making homemade pasta). Once you have made graceful ribbons (call them cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere, etc) from the stripes, fry them deep into peanut oil until they are fragrant, golden and crisp. Dust icing sugar on their surface. At this point, (according to my personal taste and inspired by typical Swedish pastry – making confectionery that is well known for the use of a range of fragranced spices) a tiny suggestion to this inviting afternoon snack might be a light variation to the traditional recipe, that is by adding also a sprinkle of cardamom or of the spice you prefer at best. Serve this light dessert with your coffee or tee and enjoy a beautiful Mardi Gras!

Apulia, its unusual white dress of fluffy snow and a warm vegetable soup that tastes of simple life!

The Epiphany weekend is already behind us and Apulia region, mostly characterized by mild temperatures, even at winter time, like other places in Southern Italy, is extraordinarily wearing a white dress of fluffy snow in these days. Indeed, it is almost unusual to taste arctic weather and contemplate snowy landscapes, which are more typical of Northern European Countries, right in the small baroque styled towns and Mediterranean countrysides that cover the South of Apulia. There, the presence of the snow is attested only in very rare occasions in the years. Perhaps, according to the perspective of a very young child, who has never seen the snow before and watches it with amazed eyes for the first time, it represents a small gift under the Christmas tree: ‘NEVE’, that is the Italian noun for ‘SNOW’ and it will be associated by the child to the cold, light, white, tiny ‘thing’ from the first moment in his life he experienced it on. The silent snowing in the night, the bright sky and view during the day, the sound of walking steps deeping in the cold soft carpet along the narrow, winding streets of small centers, everything calls for new explorations of ancient corners forged in the tender honey shaded stones and snow.  After taking a long walk and wondering about the amazing beauty of nature, seen in tiny snowflakes, perhaps a good soup, to warm our bones, would be very welcome! The cosy space by the fireplace looks very inviting in these days and it reminds of older ages, when the ladies of the family daily cooked simple meals in those typical local pots on embers. So, I took homegrown peas from the freeze, (a taste of Spring season even at Winter time is an authentic bliss!) and prepared a cream for warm bruschettas as appetizer and a spicy cauliflower and barley soup (of course you may opt for spelt or rice, for example) as main dish. Here there are some suggestions:

  • Fry gently peas in extra virgin olive oil with onion, a hint of garlic, tiny cubes of speck (from Alto Adige), salt and pepper. Add little vegetable bouillon, keep on cooking by letting the bouillon to evaporate a little and add leaves of mint when peas are soft. Make a smooth cream by using a hand blender and serve it on slices of warm bread and goat cheese.
  • As for the soup, cut the cauliflower in small pieces and make it slightly golden in extra virgin olive oil with rings of onion. Add tomatoes, a hint of garlic, a mashed boiled potato (of course it depends on the proportions of your soup) and then let simmer gently in vegetable bouillon until it will be a bit creamy. Right at the end, add the barley (already boiled) and a tea spoon of a typical spicy ricotta cheese (made of sheep milk and with a very strong spicy taste), which represents a delicacy and very ancient tradition for ‘poor’ gastronomy in Apulia region. Cook for little while more in order to combine and get flavour. Serve the soup in a bowl and a sprinkle of chopped parsley on its surface. Choose your wine and … Buon Appetito!

children-and-snow

A small timballo of aubergines for this first October weekend

   Hello, a nice weekend to you all! October was announced this morning by good weather and mild temperatures. On this occasion, I would like to introduce a recipe that my mother taught me when I was a child; indeed, it comes from my culinary memories at Summer holidays, best time for learning how to cook! So, today, the recipe to dedicate to the first weekend of the new month will be a small ‘timballo’ made with aubergines.

   Looking back very briefly at history and at the long tradition of this amazing vegetable, which has its origins in India and perhaps is 4000 years old, ancient docs attest its arrival in Italy during the Middle Age, but it is only in the 17th century, through the great work of spreading and promotion of the religious Carmelite Order that the aubergine is finally appreciated in Southern Italy at first and then all over Europe. From then on, the aubergine has come one of the main ingredients of the Italian cuisine. During the WWII, it is common among shepherds and peasants to use even the leaves of the aubergines, by drying them in the sun for making cigarettes and sigars to smoke instead of tobacco, since this latter was not available by that time of history.

   Back to our recipe, dice an oval black skinned aubergine in small cubes (please, do not peel it, since its skin has relevant healthy benefits for pancreas and guts, whereas the pulp is rich in fibers, potassium, phosphor and calcium, vitamin A and C). Then, in a large pan on the stove (medium temperature), pour some extravirgin olive oil and let it to get warm. As soon as the oil starts lightly hissing, add chopped onion, scallion, a tiny idea of garlic, three or four cherry tomatoes, a couple of pieces of lemongrass and mix all together. In the end, add the diced aubergine and keep on cooking all ingredients together. Pour little white wine and a sprinkle of thyme, majoram, bay, hot pepper. Since the aubergine has a spongy pulp, I would suggest to add more extravergin olive oil in case the aubergine seems too dry. Any way, by adding a sprinkle of salt, the aubergine will release some water since this vegetable is made 90% of water. Keep on cooking until it becomes smooth and almost creamy. Then, out of the stove, pour the mixture in a bowl and leave it for some minutes to get cooler. Add one egg, grated parmigiano, some breadcrumb to make the mixture thicker, parsley and small pieces of speck from Alto Adige  (the fragrance of it will be particularly tasteful with the aubergine).

   Next step is to grease a terracotta mould for timballo with few drops of extravirgin olive oil and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs. Pour the mixture in it and bake for about 15 mins (moderate temperature, about 200° C) until the surface becomes golden and crispy.

    Serve it warm, perhaps with some julienne vegetables, or, even better, add a couple of spoons of warm tomato sauce, it will taste delicious!

Buon Appetito 

Appetizing Pumpkin Cream Snack, a Glass of Campari and.. in the Mood for the Weekend!

Hey, it’s Friday afternoon and the new weekend is on arrival! Turn the radio up, let’s go dancing straight to the kitchen and start preparing a small snack to enjoy with a glass of clinking Campari (I may suggest Orange Passion). We need half pumpkin, a quarter of savoy, onion, extravirgin olive oil, nutmeg, half liter of vegetable b0uillon, thyme, salt & pepper. Sauter chopped onion and pumpkin cubes in few drops of extra-virgin olive oil for little less than 5 minutes. Chop the savoy finely and mix it in the pan with onion and pumpkin. Salt & pepper and a sprinkle of thyme. Add little bouillon and let it evaporate slowly in about 15 minutes (please, remember to cover the pan with a lid). When it is cooked, let the mixture of pumpkin and savoy to get cooler, add some grated nutmeg and then work with a minipimer for having a homogeneous cream. Serve the pumpkin cream on warm squares of bread, your Campari and cheers..enjoy a beautiful weekend!